Resource Horizontalism

by Willie McTier

Are Capitalist Poseurs a Problem?

Anarchism opposes exploitation of man by man. Any political ideology which supports hierarchical relationships is not anarchism. Perhaps most charitably we might call the most common example "anti-statist capitalism," to avoid confusion with bone fide forms of anarchism. Anarchism is tolerant of a large range of ideas and lifestyles, and an open to unimagined ways to organize life in freedom and equality. There are many forms of anarchist communism and syndicalism and mutualism that are consistently opposed to authority. Anti-state capitalism is not one of them.

Is the never-ending online battle about who is a true anarchist good or bad for our cause? At first sight, it might seem like wasted energy to address the same inane arguments on Facebook or Reddit over and over. Perhaps these arguments have a motivational effect, keeping people exited and inspired about anarchism. A healthy hatred of "anarcho"-capitalism inspired the most popular Anarchist FAQ on the web. Maybe the anarchist versus anti-statist capitalist rivalry gives us more publicity and credibility. Think about it: The "ancap" is the perfect foil. We can make our points against someone that everyone already hates. Use and abuse them!

The Stateless Society Problem

We could assume that, in a stateless world, our version of anarchism will become most popular, and soon everyone will prefer it. However, this seems too easy and is not likely to convince anyone not already on board. It would seem more reasonable to assume that, at least at first, a stateless world would have many different experiments in human living. What happens if anarchists run up against anti-state capitalists in this situation?

Perhaps there is a peaceful path. Since anarchist affinity groups (in real life, not online) necessarily share space and abide nearby each other, it is likely that different groups will agree on, for lack of a better word, jurisdictions. People generally would know which neighborhood or block is anarcho-communist, which is mutualist, and which is green.

So the question comes down to:

In a territory with numerous anarchist communes, could stateless communities with differing norms peacefully coexist?
This assumed "original position" seems reasonable, since pluralism and diversity is the natural consequence of freedom. How could it be otherwise? Why would anyone think otherwise? Perhaps because, having lived under rulership for so long, it might be easy to falsely assume that anarchism will look like a government - with a uniform territorial monopoly.

Most online discussions assume one of these background conditions:

  1. some kind of State of Nature, where there are no agreed norms and everyone is fighting it out, or
  2. everyone is an anarcho-Xist, except a dissenter or two who (it is argued) must be ruled unless they can practice their preferred scheme.
In short, the question of how different anarchist schools might interact is rigged by assuming either a Hobbesian war of all against all, or a state-like territorial monopoly.

The suggested alternative is resource horizontalism. Assume, instead, that different communes (communities, neighborhoods, even households) have agreed upon some resource usage norms. These various norms come about through local consensus, either by direct democratic consensus or some other consensual arrangement. This seems a lot more likely to occur in a stateless world than large territorial monopolies of uniform resource usage norms. The anarchist love for decentralization includes resource usage norms. Even if some resource usage norms prove to be more popular than others, this pluralist commune model would nevertheless apply. I certainly don’t see everyone agreeing on the best resource usage norms any time soon, even after a successful anarchist revolution.

Types of Resource Usage Norms

There are some high level “meta” resource usage rules that all anarchists agree to, simply because of our opposition to hierarchy.

The purpose of a resource usage norm is to reduce conflict and inequality in the allocation and use of scarce resources. We have four basic options, or combinations thereof:

  1. No norm: No resource usage conventions at all. This necessarily produces conflict and inequality. An adequate norm should have better consequences than this ‘null hypothesis.’
  2. Hierarchical norm: Resource usage rules which favor some group(s) over others, usually rulers over ruled. This generates interpersonal conflict between exploiters and exploited.
  3. Collective usage norm: Only certain collectives may control the use of the resource. Example: Workers controlling workshops.
  4. Individual usage norm: Any person or set of people may control the use of the resource. Example: Personal property.

These are basic types of resource usage norms, with no claim of completeness. For example, there is nothing about a 7-year jubilee system or a 50-year lottery system. These four possibilities do cover most historical systems. Needless to say, anarchists reject the hierarchical option B, and generally reject A. Anarchists favor some sort of C - collective usage. Anarchists do disagree among themselves about what the proper controlling collective should be. It could be the local hands-on workgroup, or the whole proletarian class, or perhaps all mankind, depending on the resource. Anti-state capitalists favor D, individual usage norms, for all resources, including land and the means of production.

Universal Resource Usage Norms

Regardless of whether a particular resource is controlled individually or collectively, there are some universal resource usage norms that apply. Everyone from Kropotkinites to Tuckerites agree with the following propositions. These norms apply to all consistent resource usage norms, whether collective, individual, or mixed.

    Universal Resource Usage Norms
  1. Homesteading, or original appropriation. For all resource usage norms, if nobody else owns a resource, the first significant user has the highest claim to that resource.
  2. Alienation. We may alienate resources we control by gift, trade, or abandonment.
    1. Gift. An owner may transfer ownership of a good to a consenting other.
    2. Trade. A trade is simply a reciprocal gift, e.g. your guitar for my laptop.
    3. Abandonment. An resource controller may relinquish title unilaterally, resulting in an ownerless good open for homesteading.
  3. Exclusion. Owners have a right to exclude others from resources they rightly control.
  4. Responsive force. Owners have the right to use force, even violent force, to defend resources they rightly control.
  5. Appropriate force. One should use no more force than necessary in defending resources they rightly control.

Interestingly, it is here that all of the major "anarcho"-capitalist luminaries make an ignorant and inexcusable mistake: They assume that only neo-Lockean “sticky property” satisfies these universal resource usage norms! Obviously, communist, socialist, mutualist, and geoist resource usage conventions also satisfy these norms. Rothbard, Hoppe, and Lew Rockwell all make this ludicrous error.

Note that one way of looking at capitalist private property is as possession property with a very long abandonment period. As resource usage norms (but not by usury/exploitation criteria!) mutualist possession property and anti-statist capitalist sticky property are similar.

What Would Resource Horizontalism Look Like?

We might imagine a town with ten neighborhoods, each neighborhood having different resource usage norms. Just as people who speak the same language tend to group, so do people who prefer the same resource usage norms. Each neighborhood, or commune, has known jurisdictional borders, established by past votes, committees, arbitration, or simply as registered on a trusted blockchain.

Using this commune model, most of tough counter-examples simply cannot happen. There is no “war of all against all” like the Hobbesian “Mad Max” model. There is no dissenter that cannot easily opt out - she has the possibility of moving to an commune more to her liking. People can easily “vote with their feet.” The statist monopoly is absent, and we can see clearly what diversity implies: resource horizontalism.

What would a resource usage dispute between people residing under different resource usage norms look like? Since the dispute has a location, the solution is easy - the rules applying to that location are used. If the dispute occurs in a mutualist commune, mutualist norms apply; if it occurs in a communist commune, their norms apply. Ideological battles are avoided. Social cooperation, reason, and jurisdiction create social harmony.

There is also the possibility of non-territorial resource horizontalism, where resource usage norms are in effect "attached" to the land. This is possible for some resource usage norms, but not all. For example, geoism would be impaired, especially variants based on bioregions and watersheds. Bookchin's municipal environmentalism would need a commune. All in all, since 1) like-minded people tend to group, 2) there are efficiencies in knowing which rules apply where, and 3) conflict is reduced while equality is increased, I would expect resource horizontalism with territoriality - communes - to prevail in most places.